Monday, April 09, 2007

Boni Bill signed into law - a good first step

Fletcher signs 'Boni bill' designed strengthen social worker protections
New law provides for more workers, better technology, security
Schreiner, Bruce. Lexington Herald-Leader, April 6, 2007, pg. D1.

LOUISVILLE -- Gov. Ernie Fletcher yesterday signed into law a measure intended to make sure that a crime like last year's slaying of Western Kentucky social worker Boni Frederick won't happen again.

"I would hope, first of all, that we don't have to attend any more funerals of our workers," Fletcher said at a signing ceremony attended by a number of lawmakers and social workers.

The legislation, named in Frederick's honor, is meant to strengthen on-the-job protections for social workers. It includes $6 million to hire more social workers and improve safety procedures. The law will result in bolstered security at social workers' offices and provide them with technology aimed at ensuring their safety. Social workers also will have around-the-clock access to criminal records.

"Even though it wasn't everything that we wanted, it is a very good start," Fletcher said.

The original bill, backed by Fletcher's administration, called for about $20 million during the next 16 months to add more than 300 social-services staffers, including 225 social workers.

Frederick died in October after being stabbed and beaten when she took a 10-month-old boy for a visit at his mother's house in Henderson. The youngster was found safe and returned to foster care after a three-day manhunt. The boy's mother and her boyfriend have pleaded not guilty to charges of murder, kidnapping, robbery and theft.

Some of Frederick's colleagues attended the signing ceremony.

One of them, Henderson County social worker Kelly Shaw, said she hoped the safety measures would reach social workers quickly. She said on-the-job safety is a routine concern.

"I'm glad to see something positive come out of this tragedy," Shaw said in an interview.

One important step to improve safety would be a "quick turnaround" on criminal checks to make social workers fully aware of a situation before going out on calls, she said.

"We never know what we're walking into a lot of the times," Shaw said.

Rebecca Harbin, a social worker in Louisville, said the additional 60 to 80 social workers expected from the legislation will ease caseloads, but said it's "not even a drop in the bucket" to staffing needs. She hoped the legislation would be a catalyst for more action in the 2008 legislative session.

"We are going to have to continue ... to push for more to keep it on the front burner because this is not everything that we need," Harbin said. "We need much more."


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